Climbing News: Karakorum Drama, Denali Records


2013 has not been kind to climbers in Pakistan’s Karakorum mountains. The season started with a horrific massacre on Nanga Parbat, followed by summits marred by deaths. As we approach the end of the climbing period, ambulance teams on K2 are fighting difficult weather.

Nanga Parbat

The season began with the massacre of 11 international climbers by terrorists on the world’s ninth highest peak at 26,660’/8,126 m located in Northern Pakistan.

Interviews with the survivors told a chilling tale of men impersonating local police who raided the Diamir Base Camp on June 22nd.  They drug the climbers out of their tents, bound and robbed them before executing 11. The dead included three Ukrainians, two Chinese, two Slovakians, one Chinese-American, one Lithuanian, one Pakistani, and one Nepali.

A splinter group of the Taliban claimed responsibility saying the killings were to avenge the death of a leader killed in a drone strike. National Geographic posted an interview with one of the survivors. Several of the alleged killers have been taken into custody.

The Pakistani military evacuated more than 40 climbers from Nanga Parbat but a small 5 person Romanian team climbing from the opposite side on the Rupal Face remained. Four of the five (Bruno Adamcsek, Marius Gane, Aurel Salasan, Zsolt Torok and Teo Vlad)  summited on July 19th. This team is to be congratulated for their extraordinary commitment to their climb.

No other Nanga summits are expected this season.

Broad Peak

Marketed as one of the easy 8000m climbs (mistakenly in my opinion), it is often used as a warm up for K2. A climb on Broad Peak starts steep and never lets up. I know from my attempt in 2006.

Jumping on a fast schedule and good weather window, the German team from AMICAL reached the summit on July 4th with one climber and six other topping out at the forsummit. There were similar results from the two person FTA team. It is quite common not to reach the true summit as the last push is across a narrow and dangerous cornice. However a Pakistani team reached the summit on July 13th.

Coming off Everest, Kiwi Marty Schmidt and his son Denali, waited through a long period of difficult weather but then made the true summit on July 18th. Marty is now moving over to K2 for his third attempt on the ‘Savage Mountain’.

An Iranian team of three established a new variation on Broad Peak from the Southwest Face. They summited on July 16th but called for assistance after spending several nights on the ascent, most without food and water. Aircraft were dispatched for the rescue but could not find the climbers.

A search party found and bruried the body of Tomasz Kowalski. The highly respected Polish climber died along with Maciej Berbeka after making the first winter summit of Broad Peak earlier in 2013. The body of Bereka has not been found. The entire summit team consisted of Maciej Berbeka, Adam Bielecki, Tomasz Kowalski and Artur Ma?ek.

Another death occurred at the Broad Peak Base Camp when a German climber fell into a rushing glacier stream and died.

Gasherbrum I/II

Two more 8000m peaks, the Gasherbrums attract many climbers each season. Gasherbrum I, aka Hidden Peak, at 26,509’/8080m is regarded as more difficult than Gasherbrum I at  26,358’/8034m. Most expeditions only climb one of the two or the pair separately but this year several teams are attempting to string them together in one push.

Tragedy struck on July 7th when Polish climbing legend Artur Hajzer died from an assumed fall on GI down the Japanese Couloir. He was climbing with partner Marcin Kaczkan without porters or supplemental oxygen. They were attempting to climb both peaks in one push.

Hajzer was a prominent Polish climber known in his youth for amazing first ascents, high altitude summits and then driving a renascence of the Polish climbing movement. The Altitude Pakistan Blog has a good write-up on his career.

Other teams had success on G11 including AMICAL and Kobler and Partner, a team from Spain and the summit was reached by two Belgian climbers in a short weather window on July 20th but two of their party stopped short and will make a second attempt with several other teams making their push this week.


The second highest mountain is the crown jewel for any mountaineer. Teams are now climbing from various routes but once again, difficult weather is slowing progress. Look for teams to make summit attempts in mid August. Teams include: Japanese, Swiss, Argentinean, UK, Canadian and Spanish. Only 16 climbers are reported to be left.


The spot of good news was a record season for summits on North America’s highest mountain, Mt. McKinley or better known as Denali. The US National Park Service reported there were 787 summits eclipsing the old record of 775 set in 2005. The overall success rate was an astonishing 68% which was second to the 70% in 1977 when 284 of the 360 climbers made the summit. Most years see about a 48% summit rate.

The climbers had almost perfect conditions in the early season with clear skies, low winds, mild temperatures throughout May and June. Early July saw the return to more normal conditions of heavy snow and high winds but still a few teams persevered and summited through mid July.

The overall climbers were down for 2013 with 1151 attempts, the lowest since 1997 when 1109 climbers registered for attempts.

Local legend Tom Choate set an age record with his summit at age 78 on June 28th. He first climbed Denali in 1963 and this year’s climb was his sixth overall. He recently received an artificial hip. The previous record was held by Japanese Michio Kumamoto who summit at age 76 in 2007.

Everest Hillary Step update

IMG’s Eric Simonson has provided details on that second route put up on the Hillary Step on Everest’s Southeast ridge route this past spring. He said several of the IMG guides tried it but no one else to his knowledge.

The new rappel route starts above the Hillary Step and connects to the lower traverse. The IMG climbers believe that this alternate descent route is a good option. While the new rappel is steep/overhanging, it is easier than descending the Hillary Step if there are climbers coming up the Hillary Step. The IMG guides report that the new route can be further improved by adding another directional anchor at the top to keep the new rope entirely clear of the main Hillary Step ropes.

Adjusting to Altitude

Speaking of Everest, in one of the clearest explanations of acclimatization I have ever read, legend Tom Hornbein explained it to the American Lung Association this way:

Time and a measured rate of ascent. The lower oxygen stimulates chemoreceptors that initiate an increase in breathing, resulting in a lowering of the partial pressure of CO2 and hence more alkaline blood pH.  The kidneys begin to unload bicarbonate to compensate.  Though this adaptation can take many days, up to 80% occurs just in the first 48 to 72 hours. There are many other physiologic changes going on, among them the stimulus of low oxygen to release the hormone, erythropoietin to stimulate more red blood cell production, a physiological and still acceptable form of blood doping that enhances endurance performance at low altitudes.

Adaptive changes are not always good for one’s health. Some South American high altitude residents can have what’s called chronic mountain sickness, resulting from too many red blood cells; their blood can be up to 84-85% red blood cells.  The increased blood viscosity and sometimes associated pulmonary hypertension can result in right heart failure.


This report will make you rethink how fast you climb. Two Scottish runners/climbers ran up AND down the Western Breach route on Kilimanjaro in 7 hours, 16 minutes.

Messing with the Mountains

Finally on a much lighter note, Jon Krakauer, and Conrad Anker were checking out a potentially new route on Denali’s West Rib when, well nature called. Not having the required clean mountain can (CMC) along with them, Mr. Anker did what came naturally. Climbers at the 14,000 camp, at Genet Basin was following them via scopes and “spotted” the incident. They promptly reported it to the Park Rangers stationed at the Camp during the season.

In one of the climbing quotes ever, Climbing Ranger John Leonard said:

“They were taking a shit,” Leonard says. “I don’t have much tolerance for people shitting on the mountain.”

Conrad was sentenced to community service and spent a few days hauling waste out the camp.

Climb On!
Memories are Everything

sources: Altitude Pakistan, Karakorum Climbers News, ExplorersWeb, Kooh News, Alpinist, Climber’s Blogs and Tweets

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9 thoughts on “Climbing News: Karakorum Drama, Denali Records

  1. Nangaparbat incident was heartbreaking i was there for rush lake expedition heard the news and got a call from family to come back immediately but i stayed there and went to nangaparbat base camp three days after that deep condolences for the family of great mountaineers may their souls rest in peace. Love from Pakistan xx

  2. Even a great climber must shit! 🙂 well, when you must do that, u do it, u don’t know there are some eyes on your…back , no privacy 🙂

  3. Sounds like Conrad needs to learn what a wag-bag is. Hate to say this, but shame on him.
    Cheers Alan

  4. Alan,
    I was on Broad Peak sharing a permit with the three Iranian climbers that are now missing and presumed dead. My partner broke his leg and we were evacuated one week ago. That day the three went for their new route on the summit and got lost attempting to follow the standard route down. Despite the fact that Aiden made a sat phone call the day before, the Pakistanis in all their wisdom decided to call off rescue efforts. I would like to say that all three of those young men are some of the finest that mountaineering and the world has to offer. When my friend was in distress, Moustabbe came immediately to our assistance putting his ambitions aside until he was squared away. Similarly, Pooya and Aiden were two of the nicest, most jovial and selfless young men I have ever known. It was a privilege being with them for six weeks in the Karakoram and I pray for their families and for expedition leader Ramin and Afshin who are still making attempts to organize a personal rescue.

  5. Alan, Thanks for all the updates. So much going on all over the climbing world. Conrad Anker got caught? I can’t believe they were watching through scopes! Everyone I am sure knows the rules.:) The story on the attack is still hard to grasp, so frightening.

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